Archive for September, 2012


Have you ever had a problem and exchanged it for another problem?  I have, way too often.  When I become aware that I am doing this type of exchange I realize that this pattern will continue until I address the root problem, the problem called ‘Richard.’  The great mystics, whether Eastern or Western, ask: Who are You?  Many of us Christians think the most important question is: Who is Jesus?  Some believe it is: Does God exist?  Others think it is: Is there life after death?  It seems that these folks ignore the question: Is there life before death? My experience is that it is those (at times including myself) who don’t know what to do with this life who are all hot and bothered about what they are going to do with another life.

One sign for me that I am awake and aware and that I am living in the ‘now’ is that I do not concern myself with what’s going to happen in the next life.  I am not bothered about it; I am not anxious – it is as if I am not interested.

When I think of ‘another life’ I ask: What is eternal life?  I used to think it is ‘everlasting’ life.  But the great theologians who come from a faith tradition that embraces the idea of an ‘after life’ tell us that this is crazy – ‘everlasting life’ is still within time.  It is time-focused.  Eternal means timeless – NO TIME.  As a human I cannot understand this concept for I am time-bound.  I can understand time (well, perhaps I cannot even truly understand time), what is timeless is beyond my comprehension.

The great mystics tell us that eternity is right now.  NOW.  When anxious or dis-eased or distressed I find myself ruminating about my past.  I find myself being ashamed of things I did, or didn’t do and I find myself still feeling guilty about choices I made.  For me, part of forgiveness involves ‘letting go’ of the past and part of living life is to live in the ‘now.’  When I am able to do this I believe I do experience a taste of eternity which seems to be an endless ‘now’ – no past and no future in eternity, just the endless ‘now.’


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In Luke (6:36) Jesus tells the apostles: Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.  I have been thinking about compassion these past few days.  There are times when being compassionate is challenging for me because it requires of me an inner disposition to go with the other to the place where he or she is weak, vulnerable, lonely, lost, suffering or broken.  This is not my gut response to suffering (my own or another’s).  My gut response is one of wanting to avoid or flee from suffering (or to flee from myself or from the other); one way of ‘fleeing’ is to try and fix or cure it.

There is another response available to me.  I have the ability to enter into an empathic relationship with the one who is suffering; to suffer along with.  In order to do this I must not ‘judge’ the other; compassion cannot coexist with judgment for judgment creates distance and blindness which prevents me from being with the other.

I know deep suffering – my own depression and my own dark nights of the soul and my own being lost in the wilderness.  For me, the moments of greatest comfort and consolation during these times of deep suffering were moments when someone said (sometimes without words), I cannot take your pain away, I cannot bring you light, I cannot guide you out of the wilderness but I promise you that I will not leave you alone and will hold you as long and as well as I can. 

There is much grief, pain, loss, suffering, and darkness in our lives.  What a blessing it is when we do not have to live our suffering alone – when others are willing to hold us and to walk with us.  This is one gift of compassion.  A gift which I am thankful to receive and a gift which I am thankful that I can offer others.

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I am often asked: What do leaders do?  What are their tasks?  Here are some tasks for the leader to consider:

  • To act with integrity at all times [consistency NOT perfection is the goal]
  • To be vulnerable and to model being vulnerable [i.e. to be transparent – this is who I am; to take risks – to model ‘failure’ if you will – to invite the uninvited; to carry the wound gracefully – root meaning of vulnerable comes from the Latin, ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound gracefully – as a leader you will be wounded (some of these will be self-inflicted for we do violence to ourselves)
  • To develop your capacity for discernment [discernment = that which imparts wisdom and good judgment].  Leaders are called to discern many things, two of these are: (1) nuance and (2) shifting or changing or transforming realities
  • To be awake and aware – to be disturbed by what you ‘see’ (or hear or feel or experience); to be aware of the human spirit (seeking to first understand the cares, yearnings, and struggles of the human spirit – to be empathetic!); ‘person skills’ proceed and trump ‘professional skills’ for the leader (whether servant-first or leader-first leader)
  • To have courage (from the Latin, ‘cour’ which means heart); those led expect a leader: to face up to tough decisions (e.g., when to decide for the person and when to decide for the institution; when to engage problems, paradoxes and dilemmas); to face up to conflict, especially conflicts of values and needs; to face up to promises made – and to make promises; to live the covenant they have with the led – both the explicit and implicit covenants (a covenant is a binding agreement; a moral contract)
  • To have a sense of humor – this is essential to living with ambiguity and essential if one is to live with the diversity and the vagaries of the human condition
  • To be curious – What can you learn from those who choose to follow you?   Life, as we know, is becoming more and more complex and so it is crucial for a leader to be curious of ALL of those who choose to follow and to be curious of what they have to offer (i.e. their potential and their ‘actual’) – learning is communal, we must learn to learn together.
  • Engaging the Present while learning from the Past while planning for and anticipating the Future
  • Being predictable when it comes to your core values [a ‘core’ value is a value that to the best of your ability you will never compromise], your vision and your mission
  • Learning to be comfortable with ambiguity – followers will then be more comfortable with ambiguity
  • Being ‘Present’ – a leader stops to ask questions, a leader then listens receptively and attentively; a leader demonstrates patience; a leader seeks out nuance; a leader is more in the ‘now’ than he/she is in the ‘know’
  • Balancing being effective with being faithful


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Yesterday I had a brief conversation with a person with whom I often disagree [which is probably one of the reasons our conversations tend to be brief].  I do, however, tend to leave them thinking about stuff; which is a gift our conversations offer me.  I also find that it is helpful to me if I have a sense of what a word or concept means; defining certain words helps me come to this understanding of what a word or concept means.  The person I was speaking with said that I am a fanaticwhen it comes to his political party and that I have no doubt that we are right and that you are wrong.  This morning I decided to look up some definitions of some words; I found this to be helpful to me so I offer them to you, gentle reader; perhaps some of them will be helpful to you or they might stimulate your thinking about these words/concepts or some others that come to your mind.  So here is my list and I invite you to add to this list.


1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another

2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something

3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons


1. Confident in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing

2. Faith does not rest on logical proof or material evidence

4. The theological virtue defined as secure credence in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will

5. The body of dogma of a religion

6. A set of guiding principles

religion [from the Latin ‘religio’ to bind together]

1. A set of credos, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader

2. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion


1. the state or appearance of being convinced  [convinced = to be persuaded of; to be sure of]

2. a fixed or firmly held opinion

zealot = a fervent and even militant proponent of something

fanatic = A person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause

commitment = the state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person or persons

covenant = a binding agreement

surety  = beyond doubt; certainty

doubt = to be skeptical about; to question the certainty of


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I was eating lunch yesterday and sitting a few tables away were five folks who were speaking quite loudly; as they seemed to be about my age I assumed that some of them were hard of hearing and thus the need for the increased volume.  The wait person, whom I know, asked me as I began to read the book I had brought with me, ‘Won’t their loud talking disturb you?’  I responded that it would not and thanked her for her concern.  Then I began to noodle about ‘disturbing’ and then ‘disturbers.’

There are ‘disturbers’ and then there are ‘DISTURBERS.’  The latter are those that disturb in powerful ways, ways that challenge, ways that invite, if not demand, transformation (transformation = a fundamental change in character or structure).  These folks are not embraced by the comfortable, the rigid, the dogmatists, and the entrenched.  Most of us, it seems, fall into one or more of these categories and so most of us will not easily embrace these folks.  Who were some of these great DISTURBERS?

Gandhi comes to mind.  He disturbed an empire.  He disturbed the establishment.  He was killed by a person who thought Gandhi was destroying his world (which he was).

Socrates comes to mind.  He disturbed a nation; true it was a small city-state but. . . His disturbance came in the form of questions to consider.  The leaders were so threatened by his questions that he was invited over for a drink – of hemlock.  Lincoln comes to mind.  His very election was the impetus for a split in our nation.  His desire to help heal the nation via compassion and forgiveness and his vision for a ‘more perfect union’ contributed to his not being embraced by many in the North and many in the South.  One man fired the shot that took his life but to this day there are stories of their being a wider conspiracy encompassing those from both the North and the South.  Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind.  Talk about being a great disturber.  He was even more non-violent than Gandhi (is that possible?) and, like Gandhi, he was struck down by the assassin’s bullet.  Buddha, Confucius, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed were great universe-disturbers and in many ways they continue to be so – for good and for ill [I write ‘ill’ because of the fanatics or zealots who believe that violence done in their name is not only good but is sacred].

What does it take to become a DISTURBER?  I am not sure.  What does it take to follow one who is actively causing disturbance?  Courage – heart, faith, hope, love and learning to live with fear; these come to mind, there are others I am sure.  When any of these great disturbers were alive would I have chosen to follow them; would I have been invited to follow them?  I am not so sure that I would have had the courage – heart, or faith or hope or love or be willing to live with the fear.  I find it challenging enough to embrace and live into and out of their message today and I find myself resisting when I become uncomfortable.  I don’t think I am out of the norm (perhaps I am deluding myself).  Why aren’t there great disturbers today?  Do we not need one for our times?

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San Francisco has been for many years my favorite city and I have visited there often.  During a visit in the early nineties I visited a hands-on museum, the Exploratorium.  I had also been reading about ‘waves and particles’ and one of the reasons I went to this museum was to see an exhibit called the particle chamber.  The chamber was a glass box about the size of a dishwasher (the machine, not the person) in which subatomic particles were made visible, appearing as if they were dust motes caught in a beam of light (I often mistake dust motes in my apartment for subatomic particles).  These particles, however, are not dust motes that settle on things but are dust that floats through things.  I saw it and still cannot comprehend the mystery.

The particle chamber is a container for making the invisible visible.  So are the compass, microscope, telescope, television, i-pone, i-pad and computer (to name just a few things we use to help us make the invisible visible); I use many of these things and I still cannot comprehend the mystery here either.  Certain people also make the invisible visible: psychologists, scientists, and artists, for example.  So does conscious attention – being awake and aware of and open to the ‘now.’  In each of these cases the right instrument is essential, but turning it on and ‘operating it correctly’ is perhaps even more important.  By choosing to become conscious – awake and aware and open to the ‘now’ – by becoming students of our own lives we are more able to discern and respond to the invitations/calls that are constantly moving through us as those subatomic particles move through things.  What blocks us is our inattention.  If we are not conscious the invitations/calls go unnoticed.   We are diminished and our lives move toward the absurd (ab-surdus meaning to be absolutely deaf).

The theologian Paul Tillich (a person whose writings at times are also a mystery to me) once wrote that the first duty of love is to listen.  Do I sense, if not believe, that my/the world is animated by a loving presence and if I do, do I lovingly listen intently and receptively.  There are times when I don’t sense the world to be animated by a loving presence and I become like the ancient Greeks and I sense my/the world to be animated by gods who have become mean-spirited and have taken to messing with us mortals in order to relieve their own boredom; the boredom that comes with being immortal.  When this happens I listen in self-defense – I am not lovingly receptive nor am I undefended when it comes to my listening.

Anyone who has attempted to truly lovingly listen intently and receptively knows that listening is hard work.  Listening takes discipline.  In this case, the discipline of paying close attention to ourselves, to the vital signs that manifest themselves as dreams, intuitions, longings, and feedback; these vital signs help us discern which of the many invitations that wash over us are the ones we must pay attention to.  These vital signs help us understand, or begin to understand, what is true for us, when to pause and step back and reflect and when to proceed or when to stop; they help us figure out who to trust and which road to take when we are at one of life’s many crossroads.

By choosing to become conscious in this manner we, in a real sense, will the invitations to appear.  This reminds me of the great Chinese proverb: When the student is ready the teacher will appear.  Being open to life’s invitations is a tricky business for we never really know what we will be invited into.   Once we discern the invitation we then have choice as to whether and how we will respond – the invitation can be unsettling and life changing or it can be life affirming and grounding.  Invitations are to be taken in and savored before they are embraced or dismissed.  Will I make time today to be quiet and open to the invitations that are waiting for me to discern and attend to?  Let me think about this invitation.

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A number of years ago I was driving up to Canada where I was going to guide a two day session for some school principals.  As I was about to enter into Canada there was a sign, Welcome to Canada.  I remember looking down – there was nothing to indicate that I was actually in Canada.  Borders only exist in the mind; in nature there are no border lines.  There are no American or Canadian trees or rivers or flowers or birds or mountains.  Those are conventions.  AND, people are ready to die for their conventions so real do they seem to them.

I learned while in Singapore in November that Thanksgiving exists in my head; it doesn’t exist in the heads of Singaporeans.  We have our New Year’s Day and so do the Chinese – but it is not the same day, nor does the day occur within the same month.  Boundaries and certain days of celebration are all conventions; they do not exist in reality.

I am recalling the story of an old farmer whose rather large property was on the Russian-Finnish border.  One day he had to decide whether he wanted his farm to be in Russia or in Finland.  After some serious thinking he chose Finland.  He was, within a day or two, visited by some Russian officials who wanted to know why he chose Finland since he was Russian born.  He told them that he loved Mother Russia but that he chose Finland because he was tired of enduring the long, harsh Russian winters.

Speaking of love.  I learned a hard lesson: love isn’t attraction.  ‘I love you more than I love anyone else’ usually meant ‘I am more attracted to you than to anyone else.’  You fit better into my mind’s conception of ‘love’ than anyone else.  In this sense, ‘love is blind’ or rather ‘attraction is blind’ – I remember thinking, what does he see in her,’ after meeting a friend’s new spouse.  Why can some couples stay together for sixty years and others not make it through year two?  Love endures all things and love is patient, so I am told.  A year or so before my father died my son, Nathan, and I were visiting my parents (they had been married 64 years at that time).  Nathan and my mother were in the kitchen; he was helping her cook and my dad and I were sitting on the nearby porch.  At one point my mother told Nathan that she really admired his grandfather.  My father, who was hard of hearing but refused to admit it (so was my mother and she also refused to admit it – and this made for some great miscommunication) looked up from the checker board (he and I were playing checkers) and said: What did you say?  My mother replied: I said that I have always admired you.  My dad blinked and replied: I’m tired of you too!  After a pause, we all laughed.

Love isn’t dependence but is interdependence.  I have been one of two empty people depending on each other; two incomplete persons propping one another up – then one moves and both fall down.  I remember feeling empty and lonely and then rushing to fill myself up with another person.  I have sought to fill my emptiness and loneliness with people, with things, with distractions, with work, with food. . .ah, their name is legion.  At times, I am able to accept my inner life as part of what it means to be a human being; accepting reality as I encounter it has, paradoxically, helped me accept myself and has also helped me accept others as they are.  Perhaps this is also a form of loving – accepting self and others as we are not just tolerating or enduring self and others.

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